What Fresh Hell

It seems like every day I have a war within me over whether to seek a higher road in our political and cultural discourse or yield to my basest self.

That lower self leapt out and roared when I scanned the news this morning. I felt like the lone figure in Edward Munch’s painting, “The Scream,” who is portrayed howling a scream at the pain of existence.

The Scream by Edvard Munch, 1893

“The Scream,” Edward Munch, 1893

The first story I saw told of Sally Yates’ testimony Monday about Michael Flynn, his being compromised by Russia and her reporting the problem to the White House three different times.

The next story said three former Obama staffers asserted that in their meeting two days after the 2016 election, Obama warned Trump about hiring Flynn.

I gamely continued on, but the next story described Trump’s Monday tweetstorm attacking both Yates and the Russian investigation.

The next item noted that the focus of Republicans senators’ at the hearing was not Russian interference in the election or their compromise of a White House official, but the leaks that revealed them.

Oy vey! We need to give a medal to the leaker. That leak may be the only reason that the apparently compromised Flynn is no longer our National Security Advisor.

After that, I  had the misfortune of stumbling across another article telling how Jimmy Kimmel’s plea for children’s health care has become a partisan football.

Really? We don’t agree that the most vulnerable and innocent among us should have a right to adequate health care? 

All this combined to make me think the nation is going into the crapper and I am going in it with everyone else.

Fortunately, a bit of grace appeared, even if though there is a sour note within it that points to what may be a well-nigh universal difficulty in tolerating opposing views.

As described in the AP story you will find here, a sixteen year-old Czech girl scout named Lucie Myslikova was among some 300 protesters who confronted a neo-Nazi group demonstrating in Brno, Czechoslovakia last week.

As shown in the photograph below, the young lady was in turn confronted and challenged by one of the neo-Nazis, who had gathered to protest against foreign immigrants.

Czech Republic Protest

FILE – In this file photo dated Monday, May 1, 2017, taken in Brno, Czech Republic, showing 16-year-old Lucie Myslikova talks to a protester at a right wing demonstration. (AP Photo/Vladimir Cicmanec, FILE)

The grace I found is in the calm and repose  of this young lady as she looks into the threatening face of evil. Among other things, this young man yelled at her, “They will rape you!”

Asked what they talked about, Lucie also said, “We talked about the nation, about borders, about migration. I don’t want to judge him. I don’t fight against those people. I fight against their views.”

The sour note in this grace is a news report today states she is under police protection, apparently because of threats against her life. It seems her stance threatened some people. 

Nonetheless, her words and actions point the way forward for us in our disputes, even if the daily struggle to take that higher road will be constant.


On Repentance, the General Welfare and the Better Angels of Our Nature

I’m changing directions—repenting!—on this blog out of concern for my well-being and that of our nation.

We have split into separate camps—Democrat (liberals and progressives) and Republican (conservatives and alt/right)—talking past and demonizing each other, hunkered in our respective bunkers with partisan flags composed of smugness, certainty and hubris flying high in the sky.

This does not portend well for us.

The Preamble to our oft-cited but rarely read Constitution states:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

These words contemplate a common undertaking to achieve great purposes, but we have degenerated into factions largely immune to any ends but our own.  

I am part of this. My past posts have been partisan. I can criticize, demonize and belittle conservatives of any stripe with the best of them. This should not be, however.

Speaking on the eve of the outbreak of our Civil War, Abraham Lincoln closed his first Inaugural Address hoping for a peaceful future:

“The mystic chords of memory . . . will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

His use of “chorus of the Union” pointed to a time when he hoped all parts and people of the Union would once again come together in seeking a future that would be blessed “by the better angels our nature.”

That is my hope for the country in our time.

My goal in this blog is to surface my better angels through discussing the issues of the day through a prophetic Christian lens.

By this, I mean to apply the teachings of the Hebrew prophets, including Jesus of Nazareth and New Testament writers, to contemporary issues.

It is true that Hebrews prophets were often blunt, divisive, and opinionated.

Thus, my analysis might often seem to smother the “better angels” of my nature.”  

To be sure, they often may contain bits of my own smugness, certainty and hubris.

However, may I grow through this exploration and interaction with its readers.

When Lincoln was speaking of “better angels of our nature,” it is likely that he was including within that phrase the divine values of justice, righteousness, mercy and grace.

As they took time to more fully surface in him, so they will surely take more time to better surface in me.

So, forgive me as I stumble along with my efforts, but my hope is to learn and grow with others through grappling with scripture, spiritual teachings and our higher national aspirations and what those mean in relationship to our consideration of contemporary issues.


Is There Such a Thing as a Republican White Knight?

This past weekend, I opened the Saturday edition of the Austin American Statesman and did a double-take at seeing a photograph of Senator John Cornyn (R-Tex) featured over the headline, “Cornyn unveils bill to protect domestic violence housing.” Wow! I couldn’t recall a Republican pushing a “helping” initiative in years. The article is here.

The article depicts Cornyn as a white knight riding to the rescue of the Travis County domestic shelter program. In the past, the SafePlace received about $625,000 per year in HUD homeless grants. However, HUD recently made rule changes that tilts the table in such a way that these “transitional” grant programs will no longer qualify for any homeless grant funds. To remedy the problem, Cornyn is proposing legislation to require HUD to prioritize funding “transitional” housing grants for domestic violence survivors over all other homeless grants.

Sounds good, huh? I have counseled domestic violence victims, including some looking for a bed and protection for that night. They have typically been frightened and panicked. They needed help and compassion. The shelters I am aware of have provided that help admirably.

However, while money is needed for those programs, the story is a bit more complicated than the American Statesman revealed.

Recent budget cuts—brought about in significant part by Republicans like Sen. Cornyn—led to the rule changes.

In past years, “transitional” housing grants, including those for domestic violence shelters, were part of a $2.1 billion pot of money designated for all homeless grants. Along with domestic violence shelters, the money helped people who were chronically homeless, particularly veterans, families and those living in the street. Most of this big pot was designated for these people.

However, after recent budget cuts, HUD looked over what money it had left and decided that it was about half of that needed to fully address the homeless issue in the United States. HUD also concluded that grants for “chronic” homeless provided more bang for the buck than did grants for “transitional homeless”So (i.e., domestic violence shelters).

So, HUD rewrote to get more bang for the buck and by giving priority to grants for the chronically homeless over those for transitional programs. Cornyn’s bill would flip the deck and require HUD to put domestic violence transitional grants at the top of the priority pack and all other homeless programs beneath it.

This may be the right outcome. I tend to favor domestic violence victims because of my experience. However, would this result in, say, a veteran with PTSD being unserved? Or a family who has just lost their apartment and the bread-winner has been laid off? Yes, at least if HUD is correct.

Cornyn hasn’t made the white knight level yet. He would, however, by not only filing this bill but also by going to bat for full funding for the entire homeless program. After all, many families (and parents and children) are chronically homeless and may lose out if no more money is given. This is also true for veterans and those living in the street.







Evangelical Leaders Stand Against Fear and Bigotry

While innocent people lose hope and perhaps their lives, a majority of American Christians oppose refugee resettlement here. However, another hallelujah moment has come in the struggle for justice. One hundred evangelical leaders have signed a statement decrying 45’s refugee ban. CNN reports the statement will appear as an advertisement in tomorrow’s Washington Post. Congratulations to these leaders who recognize the consistent Biblical call to treat the foreigner and stranger with fairness and justice. And some if not all of them well remember Joseph, Mary and Jesus were refugees who fled to Egypt, something many Christians do not.

The specious argument 45 uses in support of the refugee ban is that our country receiving these refugees increases the threat of terrorist attacks on our soil. Nonsense. There is no evidence support his argument. In fact, the libertarian (and Koch-funded) Cato Institute issued a recent report concluding the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year. The same report concluded the chance of an American being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is even higher—10. 9 billion per year. World Relief also reported that over 3 million refugees have settled in the United States since 1980 and not one American life has been lost in any attack by those refugees.

Refugees are simply folks like you and me who flee their homes to save their lives. They need help and not bans. 45’s order flies in the face of Christian compassion and fact. Of course, we cannot accuse the man of being steeped in either.

Don’t Be Suckered by Trump’s Tweets

The New York Times had a recent article noting that our diplomats in Europe are warning governments wary of Trump not overreact to his tweets. America—and especially my fellow Democrats, progressives or liberals—needs to heed this warning. Today’s tweet by the Orange One about an arms race has yielded a bumper crop of overreactions.

The Washington Post editorial board already has posted an editorial warning about this threat. Meanwhile, Twitter chirps away with yet more hand-wringing and teeth-gnashing tweets about this latest storm and Facebook is rife with similar condemnatory posts. Even Trump’s advisors are playing their familiar role of walking back another burst of their boss’s regrettable statements. Predictably, progressive and liberal periodicals like Mother Jones, The Nation and The New Republic are also hurling thunderbolts at the POEUS.

Of course, there are many things we can object to about Trump. For example, we should be repelled about his appointment of a racist (Sessions); climate change deniers (several of them); Goldman Sachs alumni (again, several); and, climate change creators (in the person of Exxon’s Rex Tillerson). We can add to these his repugnant tilt to Putin; probable support of Assad; stirring of the Chinese pot; further inflammation of the Middle East; embrace of Israel; taxing and spending policies; intended repeal of Obamacare; possible action to reduce Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security; and, the list stretches on. Will it become infinite?

These are all substantive issues that we need to work on now. The tweet du jour which is just another in the round of tweets du jour is not a substantive issue. Yes, they do degrade our country. Yes, they will contribute to the deterioration of our role in the world. Yes, they do reflect the unstable mind at the helm and might scare the bejabbers out of us. If you are like me, you wake up early in the morning feeling that there is no way this ending will be good.

However, we need to put his tweets in their proper place as a blowhard doing what he does best. Instead of focusing on them, we need to focus on upcoming confirmations battles as well as subsequent fights over health care, taxes and the social safety net. So, instead of worrying about Trump’s early morning statements, we need to ask ourselves what steps we might take to counter his actions as opposed to his bloviations.

White Trash Looks at His Own

A sad and strange result of the 2016 election is the many progressives and Democrats surprised that large numbers of white males voted Republican. Who would have thought? In a related development, the same group is slack-jawed at the number of white blue collar workers in the Rust Belt who helped usher in the era of Trump. Didn’t see that coming!

These phenomena also caused the elite media (you know who you are New York Times, Washington Post and others) to wake to the truth that many whites in the hinterlands feel abandoned and ignored by government and estranged not only from mainstream media but also values and policies of the Democratic Party. These media, and more than a few progressives, seem to have decided that they need to find out something about these strange people from Middle America.

Something that will prepare them for the journey are several recently released books that shed light upon this widespread discontent (spoiler alert—it is not racism). The most widely read and reviewed are “Hillbilly Elegy” by J.D. Vance, “White Trash” by Nancy Isenberg and “Strangers in Their Own Land” by Arlie Russell Hochschild.

As a progressive born, raised and living in this strange and distant land, I want to offer my take on this. I’m the latest of generations of white trash, a/k/a “rednecks” and “trailer trash.” My father and generations of Hazlewoods before him were Southern tenant farmers. Daddy grew up in 1910’s and 1920’s on farm land not far from Waco, Texas where they still used mules and outhouses. I grew up in Houston, though, and worked most of my professional life in Austin. But, then came the call to ministry. Since then, I’ve lived and pastored exclusively in rural and small town churches in South Central Texas.

After the election, I realized that I knew more about “those” voters than about any of my fellow progressives who lived on either coast. And, I’ve read things about them being racist or bigoted or ignorant. Well, no.

My peeps are good folks. They are good friends to have, the type who will pull over on the road and help you change a tire or who will bring you some food when you mother dies. They go to church on Sunday and maybe sit on a committee or two or work in the food bank or deliver food for Meals on Wheels. They feel there is too much sex and violence in the media and are not too fond of all the cursing, either. No matter what your skin color, they will help you if you need it. They have guns—and use them. Even women hunt. I love them.

But, they have big problems with government and wonder about liberals and progressives, too. More specifically:

  • many feel they do not matter to government and that their voices will not be heard;
  • they find people on the coast condescending and arrogant. They feel that these people look down on them and consider them to be ignorant racists;
  • they perceive their values are quite different from “liberals” (they tend to be Christian, sexually modest and community-oriented);
  • they hate what they see as government giveaways (pretty much those things that are the safety net—welfare, food stamps and Medicaid);
  • they don’t like affirmation action and wonder how racism can be ended with such racial consciousness;
  • they are suspicious of big government, as well as Muslims and Islam;
  • they watch Fox News and listen to Rush, O’Reilly and Hannity; and,
  • they have guns and think liberals look down upon them for this.

When I read or hear these good folks belittled, I sometimes think that it is their critics who are the bigots.